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Charles Read: Part 2 – Land & Law

We left Charles Read off in the last article having moved to Burlington City in 1739. The elder Charles Read was dead, his familial home was sold, and presumably the finishing touches had been put on settling the estate. The stage was set for the younger Read to finally come into his own, and his offices, land holdings, and achievements he would have would blow the doors off anything that his father or grandfather had done.

On November 10, 1744 Read was sworn in to the post of Secretary of the Province. This was a post appointed directly by the Crown, although usually given to someone who remained in England and then farmed out to a deputy that lived in the colony. The Provincial Secretary had an eclectic set of responsibilities including managing the correspondence between the Colonial Office in London and the government in New Jersey as well as maintaining records and documents such as birth and death certificates, land surveys, registrations, and writs.[i] The fees associated with each of the documents created were given to the secretary in lieu of a salary, making this position greatly coveted and incredibly powerful.

The same month, Governor Lewis Morris named Read one of the surrogates of the prerogative court, which was a Royal court that had jurisdiction over the estates of deceased persons. Later that year he was commissioned as Justice of the Peace for Monmouth County and thereafter received a commission of Dedimus Potestatem, granting the authority to administer oaths to all officers within the province.[ii]

Read quickly became friendly with Morris, and upon the Governors death on May 21, 1746 Read served as pallbearer for the funeral. With the passing of Morris, Read became nervous about his prospects in government, fearing that he’d be replaced by others. In 1748 he wrote James Pemberton, afraid that “an Irishman from Amboy” would replace him in office of Secretary. He wrote Pemberton again in 1757 and once again in 1759 about “renewing the contract” which was about to expire. Seemingly, Read did not need to worry. On February 17, 1762 he received a new commission from Governor Josiah Hardy.

On May 20, 1751 Read took his place as assemblyman for the 18th Assembly after Governor Jonathan Belcher encouraged him to run for election. Likely due to the influence of Belcher, Read was selected for the post of speaker, despite this being his first year in the body. In addition to coming up with plans to fund the colonial government, which included the salary of the governor and other provincial officials as well as a stipend of 6s per diem for members of the assembly, an allowance of 14s per week for “use of a Room, Firewood, and Candle for the Council” the body was also responsible for issues of taxation. One of the first orders of the day was to settle the ancient conflict of how land was taxed – based on the quantity of land owned by an individual, or based on the quality of the land.

Owners of manufacturing interests would often petition the assembly for tax exemptions. In 1751 owners of ironworks in Morris County asked for a bounty on iron and tax exceptions for their works. The following January owners of glassworks petitioned for a similar exemption, and later in 1754 citizens from Cape May County asked for the same for their gristmills. [iii]

The legislature was also asked to address various other issues. In 1752 the inhabitants of Morris County asked for relief from the inconveniences and damages from having “great numbers of cattle from the neighboring counties drove up into their county.” A petition of bolters set forth “that it is almost impractical to comply with the Act concerning Flour, because much wheat is threshed on earthen floors” and asked for an act to prevent the practice. Read also benefitted personally from his position in the assembly. In 1769 a law was passed giving owners of ironworks the right to provide employees with “Rum or other strong liquor, in such quantity as they shall from experience find necessary.” This law also made it illegal for anybody within four miles of Read’s ironworks, which will be discussed in the next article, to “entertain in or about their House, in idling or drinking, or shall sell any strong drink, to any wood-cutter, collier, or workman employed at said works.” A fine of 10s was to be levied for each offense, with the money to be spent on road maintenance.[iv] It was a brilliant piece of law for Read, who constantly battled with the effects of liquor on his workers. By putting the control of the quantity and type of liquor that could be distributed to his employees, Read could theoretically control how much they drank.

Another example of his personal interests affecting public law was the 1759 sponsorship of a law “for the further Preservation of Timber in the Colony of New Jersey.” This was to replace the act “for preventing the waste of Timber, Pine, and Cedar Trees and Poles.” This act had been on the books since 1714, yet it’s “good intentions” had been defeated by people trespassing on land and cutting down timer that did not belong to them. The new act provided a remedy in the form of a 20s fine to anyone who should “cut, box, bore, or destroy any Tree, Saplin, or Pole” on lands that did not belong to them. [v] Clearly Read, with thousands of acres of woods, had an interest in keeping the trees for his own lumber interests.

Read, while not a Quaker, frequently shared the ideals and opinions of the Society of Friends. While Native Americans in New Jersey had generally received fairer treatment than their brethren in the other colonies, there were legitimate grievances that needed to be settled. Many of the Lenape, the tribe native to New Jersey, felt that they had not been compensated fairly by settlers who came to occupy their land. Other complaints included the construction of dams made navigation impossible on some creeks that were previously accessible to their canoes as well as the use of large steel traps to catch deer. Things began to come to a head around 1755, with the French & Indian War underway, scaring residents into thinking that the Native Americans would possibly start attacking colonists.

That year several Indians from Pennsylvania were held in the Trenton jail, despite New Jersey not having jurisdiction over them. Read protested their capture fearing that it might bring New Jersey into an Indian war which “of all Others is the most alarming and Ought to be Studiously avoided.”[vi] Read’s protestations were not for vain, and Governor Belcher ordered the Indians released to the governor of Pennsylvania. Read was in the forefront of the debate of what to do with the Indians, and in December of 1755 Read, along with Richard Saltar and Samuel Smith were named as commissioners to meet with the representatives of several Native American tribes.  The commission met with success, and in 1757 the legislature adopted a series of reforms and guidelines limiting the size of steel traps, the sale of alcohol, the regulation of land purchases, and made illegal jailing a Native American for debts.

On December 8, 1755 Read proposed the idea of creating a reservation for the Native Americans. Various lotteries were run and donations accepted to generate the money required to purchase the land for a reservation as well as settle any outstanding claims the tribes may have had. At a conference in Burlington on August 7, 1758 the representatives from the tribes requested a parcel of land be purchased in Evesham Township for a reservation for those Indians living south of the Raritan River. In exchange, all land claims and grievances the tribes south of the Raritan would be considered settled. £1600 was appropriated, half of that going towards buying the property and the other half would be spent settling claims that the northern tribes had.

Three tracts of land were purchased near Edge Pillock, on Bread and Cheese Run. The settlement was named Brotherton, now Indian Mills, and is generally thought to be the first Indian reservation in North America. Brotherton was to be an agricultural community, as evidenced in a letter from Read to Israel Pemberton:[vii]

“. . . We have purchased a tract of Land for them extreamly Convenient for them abt. 2000 or 2500 acres & have this day sent a Surveyor to Survey a parcel of Wild natural meadow near the place where they can cut their Hay & directed him to take up 500 Acres of it. They can in a day come from the Sea within 5 miles of this place with Clams & oysters. There are 300 bearing apple trees on it & 24 acres of good Indian Corn whc We propose to lay down with Rye & this will be their first Years provisions on their removal.”

Despite being occupied by public life, Read began broadening his real estate holdings when he moved to New Jersey. By 1749 he wrote to James Pemberton explaining, “my estate lays chiefly in land.”[viii] He sold his properties in Pennsylvania and now focused most of his attention on land in New Jersey. Between 1740 and 1742 he sold a tract of land and a 250-acre plantation in Burlington County.[ix] In 1741 he owned 8 acres by the Delaware River in Willingsboro Township. 1745 saw him purchase a 6 acre lot in Burlington, and the following year an acre lot in Burlington City on the east side of High Street. There’s no record of Read having built a house there, so it’s likely that he was just looking to hold on to the land and sell it at a profit rather than go through the hassle and expense of building a house for himself.

Read tended to lean towards owning larger tracts of land. In 1744 he purchased 1,725 acres of un-appropriated land in West New Jersey.[x] In 1751 he received two grants from the West Jersey Proprietors – one for 5,378 acres and the other for 3,750. His holdings stretched from Burlington County to Morris, Hunterdon, and Gloucester Counties.

It’s likely that his experience with his father’s ironworks as well as his interest in farming influenced the type of real estate that Read was interested in. Tracts of cedar swamp could be cut, milled into lumber, and the land then repurposed for farming. The pine forest could also be cut, milled into lumber or made into charcoal. In 1746 he leased a 10-acre tract of swampland, one of the terms of the lease being that Read should “clear the said Swamp and make it meadow fit for the scythe.”[xi]

In 1745 he purchased a tract of 2,000 acres on Cotoxing Creek below Lumberton and built a sawmill. Two years later he leased the mill to Benjamin Moore, Jr. and four others who agreed to cut at least 50,000 feet of pine boards annually, with one-fifth of the product delivered to Read.[xii] Such deals were typical for the time – a landowner would acquire land, build a mill, and lease the mill itself for both an annual rent as well as a portion of the output.

The fees collected for the documents issued in his position as Secretary of the Province in addition to the salaries that the other various positions that he occupied offered, coupled with his own private income provided a substantial income from which he could fund his greatest ambition – becoming an ironmaster.

In the next installment of this series we’ll follow Read as he constructs, and nearly goes bankrupt from, his four ironworks.


[i] “Provincial Secretary.” Wikipedia. 2011. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 14 May 2011 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Provincial_Secretary>

[ii] Carl Raymond Woodward, Ploughs and Politicks: Charles Read of New Jersey and his Notes on Agriculture (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1941) p. 98

[iii] Ibid, p. 136

[iv] Arthur Pierce, Iron in the Pines 1957. (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1990)  p. 163

[v] Woodward, p. 140

[vi] Ibid, p. 180

[vii] Ibid, p. 184

[viii] Ibid, p. 64

[ix] Ibid

[x] Ibid

[xi] Ibid, p. 66

[xii] Ibid